Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 1:02 pm 
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Zhang Kexuan, Zhong Guo Liuxing, Liu Wenqing and Lou Yihao in 11 Flowers

Growing up at the end of the Cultural Revolution

This conventional and somewhat predictable film about China in 1975, a year before the deaths of Mao Tsedung and Zhou Enlai signaled the end of the Cultural Revolution, made with French funding, has a delicacy and subtlety due to its crabwise approach. Rather than dealing with crowds rushing around, it follows Wang Han (Liu Wenqing) an 11-year-old boy living up in a mountainous region alongside a river in Guizhou province with his mother (Yan Ni), younger sister (Zhao Shiqi), and his actor father (Wang Jingchun). It achieves some genuinely touching moments. Needless to say, director Wang Xioshuai is very good with children, which isn't easy, though he's obviously helped by the youthful professionalism of the boys playing the main character's pals, Zhang Kexuan, Zhong Guo Liuxing and Lou Yihao. The effect of the film is to represent how events might look on the periphery, and to people a little too young to fully understand them. There are times when Wang approaches greatness here, and he is apparently basing the story on his own rural upbringing as a Sixth Generation director. This is a very absorbing watch whose sedate pace doesn't keep it from achieving a quiet intensity.

The first episode establishes the family's poverty, and that leads into the main episode, which underlines the unrest and underlying violence, even in this rural area. Trouble comes when Wang Han (Liu Wenqing) is chosen to be the gym leader, the boy who does the exercises everyone follows up on a platform, and he needs a new shirt. but his mother can't seem to manage: it would take a year's worth of fabric coupons. His father works in the local factory, though he inspires Wang Han with dreams of being a member of the intelligentsia, encouraging him to learn to be a painter, and speaking of his former identity as a theater person.

We can see what's coming when Wang Han nonetheless gets a new shirt but passes out at the river. When he's revived, it's disappeared, and it turns out to be grabbed by Jueqiang (Wang Ziyi), a young man on the run from police, wounded, after trying to set fire to the factory. He is hiding in the forest, and Wang Han is the one who knows the secret. This bond somehow ties in the central experiences of the boy with the travails of his father and another man, who feels he is a non-person because his intellectual status has been destroyed and he has been exiled here. The relationship between Juegiang and Wang Han, though established only in a fleeting scene. changes everything, and the director's handling of every scene shows a sure touch.

In an enthusiastic review for Variety, Justin Chang describes how the film develops a dreamlike quality visually and otherwise from the moment when Wang Han passes out in the water, and the unfolding of events shows "a rich sense of time." The actual Chinese title, Chang points out, means "I am 11," but the "Flowers" in the English and French titles refer to a still life Wang Han's father sets up for him to draw and paint. A particularly nice scene is of his father showing him cherished reproductions of Impressionist paintings and sharing his love of them, thus conveying that the Cultural Revolution has not destroyed awareness of western culture.

Derek Elley, who provides more details in his Film Business Asia review, makes a good point when he concludes that the film is primarily about the experiences of childhood rather than "some kind of oblique commentary on the period." And the story "is basically about a family living in a town where the children feel at home but their parents feel displaced. " This is best shown, as Elley notes, in the scene where "Wang Han and his father meet Wang Han's female schoolmate Juehong and her father in the countryside: while the men are bemoaning their relocation to the countryside, the boy is transfixed by being so physically close for the first time to a girl he's admired from afar."

11 Flowers, French title [i]11 fleurs, Chinese title 我11 (Wo 11), was screened for this review at MK2 Beaubourg, Paris, May 14, 2012. The film , which is in Mandarin, with French subtitles in the print shown here, debuted at Toronto September 2011 and was shown at a number of other festivals including Pusan, Tokyo, and Deauville. It opened theatrically in Paris May 9, 2012, to generally positive reviews (Allociné 3.4). It is scheduled to open in the Netherlands June 21, 2012.

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